Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Zach Beauchamp's Hatched Job on Richwine


Not going to mess with this in depth, but a few quick thoughts, with something more later:

1. The intellectually cowardly part of me wishes this issue would die, since anyone who speaks out on behalf of the un-PC side of this debate gets thought a racist.

2. Which is also part of what keeps me commenting on it, since that's bullshit.

3. I thank the gods that my dissertation was not subjected to the kind of scrutiny that Richwine's has been subjected to. (And my dissertation was regarded as very notably above-average in quality. But if you had shopped it around to a bunch of experts (other than those on my committee) who were extremely hostile to the conclusion, against the backdrop of a discussion of my possible racism and so forth...I'll tell you right now that it would have been shredded.)

4. I don't know anything about Richwine. My own objections in this vicinity concern groupthink, Lysenkoism, and the erroneous belief that liberalism requires an anti-scientific faith in total equality of abilities.

5. The piece is filled with bad reasoning and appeals to empirical evidence that I'm pretty sure are partial and misleading, e.g. the bit about the twins study...but to be sure I'll have to root around a bit. That stuff isn't fresh in my head.

6. The following chilling paragraph sums up the Beauchamp piece pretty well:
It is the case that, on some tests of intelligence, there are demonstrated gaps between different groups of Americans, particularly ones identified as “black” and “white.” As we’ve seen, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests these broad groups have little do with “race” simpliciter and much more to do with the environments people of certain races find themselves in. These findings underscore that careful scholarship on the sources of this gap, like Richard Nisbett’s or Christopher Jencks’, is legitimate academic inquiry and should be vigorously protected as such.
But this field is no place for dilettantes. The costs of being wrong are too high, the fearful forces fueled too powerful for race and IQ research to be judged like normal work. There needs to be a premium on conceptual precision and empirical accuracy over and above standard operating procedure, even (or perhaps especially) at a place as esteemed as Harvard. Anyone who wants to work in this area should be set to a higher standard, asked to explain what “race” means and whether it really what matters when we talk about IQ. It’s a bar Jason Richwine’s simplistic research never would have cleared.
Sometimes, “good enough” isn’t good enough.

although we have to be careful to protect the research of people whose conclusions we like, your research needs to be flawless if its conclusion is politically incorrect. The normal standards of scientific inquiry do not apply here. It's ok to talk about IQ if your conclusion is pleasing; if not, you need to explain why we should even be talking about IQ at all. Ditto race. We know what the right conclusion is here, and your argument is sound only if it supports that conclusion. Deviate from the politically palatable conclusion at your peril.

This kind of thing is deplorable.

I'm as unhappy about the possibility that there are racial IQ differences as anyone. But for Chrissake, you can't let your unhappiness about a possibility drive you to this kind of thing.


Blogger Dark Avenger said...

Race is a social construct, Winston, not a scientific category backed by facts and coherent reasoning. I wish you'd get that through your thick skull one of these days.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

There is no such thing as a "social construct." If you mean that there's no such thing as race, or some other determinate thing, you ought to say that.

Not that that point is relevant.

I'll let the "think head" comment slide.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People shift standards of evidence for practical or moral reasons all the time, and it's not troubling. In fact it would be troubling if they didn't. If you were to apply the same standard of evidence to the question of whether your coworker was planning to kill you as to whether he wanted tacos for lunch, you would be be evincing a culpable lack of trust. In court, a higher standard of evidence is required for criminal convictions than for civil decisions. Physicians demand more evidence that a procedure is safe than that it is effective. Journalists demand (or should demand) better sourcing of an explosive accusation than they do of high school football scores. Each of these activities is, amongst other things, a kind of inquiry. Nonetheless evidential standards should be adjusted where the practical and moral consequences for being wrong are great.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

True, A.--but we normally think that that's not supposed to happen in science... In practical matters, sure...

I've been thinking about that general kind of point off and on for awhile...but not as assiduously as I should have been. I suspect that the vocal folks on the left think that you'd better just accept as an indubitable article of faith that there are no race- or sex-based IQ differences. That's certainly the way they speak.

But they might just think that anybody who would defend theses to the effect that there are race- or sex-based IQ differences is a racist or sexist. Still crazy, but less so.

A less crazy point is something like: given the history of this kind of question, it's a kind of moral/political powderkeg, and you have some kind of non-scientific obligation to treat it with extra caution...

When it's put that way I do have a certain sympathy with it... I think it's pretty crazy to act as if anyone who doesn't toe the party line with respect to race and IQ must be a racist... But I do have sympathies with some kind of point in this vicinity.

But, of course, then the proper response to Richwine would be something like: "whoa, whoa, whoa...dude...we... We need to be careful with that point and we are kind of embarrassed that this sounds a little Lysenkoist here, but [insert explanation of history and context] and so you can see why we're asking people to raise their standards of proof with respect to this sort of thing...not for scientific reasons, but for moral and political ones."


Which is crazy.

4:27 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Was DA not kidding? I would've thought that was a joke.

'cause really, after reading this blog as long as he has, surely he wouldn't just come out and aggressively assert something is a "social construct" in a anus-y tone...would you, DA?

5:58 PM  

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